If we’re to trust corporate marketing, “disruptive” companies are “growth hacking” their way to “changing the world” left and right. Their offices have the ping-pong tables and the free kombucha to prove it! But is that what employees actually want? If you were to ask them, you might hear surprisingly little about Patagonia vests and more about, you know, childcare.
In this episode, we talk about workplace communities with the amazing Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky. He is an internationally renowned keynote speaker, workplace belonging expert, and best-selling author. Smiley joins us today to discuss the future of work, corporate culture, and why belonging is the secret to engaging your community members.
Our chat starts with the “quarter-life crisis” and breakthrough that lead to Smiley’s search for meaningful work. We talk about human connection, loneliness, and how friendship can save lives. Smiley also stresses the importance of listening to what employees and communities want and giving people the permission to be playful.
You’ll be surprised to learn that Jillian has been living a double life. She’s a community manager by day and, it turns out, a hard-boiled vandal by night. Don't miss hearing all about how she’s been spreading her message of kindness!
Adam Smiley Poswolsky
ADAM “SMILEY” POSWOLSKY is a top keynote speaker, workplace belonging expert, and best-selling author of three books: The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, The Breakthrough Speaker, and Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. Smiley regularly speaks at Fortune 500 companies and has advised heads of state and foreign leaders about fostering belonging and human connection in the future of work. Smiley’s TED talk on “the quarter-life crisis” has been viewed nearly 2 million times, and he has spoken in front of fifty thousand people in twenty-five countries. Smiley’s writing has been published in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and the Washington Post, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Wall St. Journal, and the World Economic Forum.
In This Episode
- The “quarter-life crisis” that lead to a breakthrough and Smiley’s search for meaningful work
- The deterioration of the social self and its effects on society
- Giving people the permission to be playful
- The importance of listening to what employees and community members actually want
- Why companies are not families, despite what the corporate marketing says
- Jillian’s kindness-vandalism and mission in life
- The small things we can do that make a huge difference
- Why you should be investing in friendship
- Connect with Smiley on LinkedIn
- Smiley on Instagram and Twitter
- Friendship in the Age of Loneliness by Adam Smiley Poswolsky [Amazon affiliate link]
- Stolen Focus by Johann Hari [Amazon affiliate link]
- Lost Connections by Johann Hari [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 047: The Workplace Community and Being Enough with Adam Smiley Poswolsky
Adam Smiley: Moving away from this kind of corporate speak of changing the world, and then just being, like, “Here's what we actually do, and we're listening to our people. What does our talent want, what do our customers want, what does our community want?
It's an important shift, because it was all usually about, “Here's how great we are, here's what we're doing, come get the Patagonia vest with our logo, all the benefits and the ping pong tables and the free kombucha and blah, blah, blah. And now it's, wait a second, “What are people asking for?” Well, actually childcare.
Jillian Benbow: Well, hello. It must be Tuesday, because a new episode of The Community Experience is dropping now. I'm your hostess, host. I can't decide what I want to say. What do you think? I'm the person that talks a lot, Jillian Benbow, and today I am interviewing Adam Smiley Poswolsky, who thankfully goes by Smiley, because we all know I can't pronounce anything. And Smiley is amazing. He is an internationally renowned keynote speaker, workplace belonging expert, and bestselling author. He has a TED talk with about 2 million views at the time of this recording. He does speaking engagements all over the place, including Fortune 500 companies, all the stages, and he's written a bunch of books, including The Quarter-Life Breakthrough and Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. So we get into everything. If you know me, you know I love a tangent, and a tangent I take this episode.
And Smiley is very gracious about that, but ultimately we're talking about human connection. That's kind of the overlapping theme, tangents aside, and just how we connect and thus become community. And I think this will be an enjoyable experience, even with the tangents.
We talk about a lot of things like office culture and just how we identify. Is my personality, is my persona all about community building, or is that just a piece of me, and what parts of us we kind of highlight versus not. Anyways, let's get into the episode. You can hear all about what I'm talking about, and then in the outro we can dig in. So here is Smiley on this episode of The Community Experience Podcast.
Jillian Benbow: Welcome to this episode of The Community Experience Podcast. today we have Adam Smiley Poswolsky. Did I do it right?
Adam Smiley: Got it.
Jillian Benbow: Oh good. Okay. Who goes by Smiley? So that's much easier. I love this. Smiley, welcome to the show.
Adam Smiley: Thank you for having me, Jillian. It's great to be here.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I'm excited. I was totally creeping on your LinkedIn and your YouTube and your website recently, and I just love what you're doing. And so our audience, if you haven't heard of Smiley yet, you will now. You're an internationally renowned keynote speaker, no big deal, and you have a TED Talk. You are obviously a speaker, you're also an author of... I have two things on this list, but I think it might be three.
Adam Smiley: Three books.
Jillian Benbow: I think we got three. So we've got The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, Friendship in the Age of Loneliness, and the third one is about speaking, and it's not on my list, so I can't say the title. What is the title of it?
Adam Smiley: The Breakthrough Speaker.
Jillian Benbow: Hey, there you go. So you're not busy at all, not at all. So tell us about... I think what's most fascinating of course, besides that you obviously have the drive to get your message out there, is what you're talking about. And a lot of what you talk about obviously is friendship, belonging, and specifically workplace community, and how to foster that sense of community in a workplace. How did you get into all of this?
Adam Smiley: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, generally my philosophy with writing and creative work is the write what you know, and write what comes out of your experience, and write the book that you wish you had. All three of my books came out of my own journey and challenges at a specific time in my life. So the first one, Quarter-Life Breakthrough, is really about being a millennial and kind of coming of age post-recession, the last one. I'm a little bit old. I'm almost 40 years old. And joining the workforce, and then realizing that you can find something that on paper looks great, and everyone else is really impressed by, and pays the bills, and checks all the boxes, job security, healthcare, salary that impresses the parents and people at happy hour, but actually isn't what you want to do, and what that quest for meaningful work looks like and kind of being in what people often call a quarter life crisis, a third life crisis, midlife crisis.
Mine was almost at the age of 30, so I called it a quarter life crisis. I kind of wrote this book of the Quarter-Life breakthrough, which is all about my journey to find meaningful work, how do you find meaningful work, and also pay the bills, how do you surround yourself with a community that can support you in that journey, kind of writing the career book that I wish I had, a lot of interviews, a lot of research on what millennials are looking for, what the next generation is looking for in terms of purpose in the workplace. And then my most recent book, which is probably most relevant to this audience, is really about friendship and community in the age of loneliness.
We're currently experiencing and were actually experiencing before the pandemic a loneliness epidemic in the United States and across the world. Nearly two thirds of Americans are lonely, 70% of millennials, 80% of gen Z. That was before COVID-19, before two years of social isolation, lockdown, social distancing, masks, people moving to much more remote work. And my own experience of being an extroverted, outgoing, happy person that at least prior to 2020 was, I made a living going to events, I literally spent my life at events, meeting people, and yet I was feeling lonely, and I was feeling kind of detached from my community.
And I wrote this book to kind of say, hey, to normalize this a little bit. If I'm feeling this, I'm sure a lot of other people are too. We're in this together. Why is it that we only spend 4% of our time with our friends, 4%, and meanwhile, we're spending so much time on social media, technology, all these other things which can be great tools, but it's not the same as deep, meaningful connection and friendship? So that was kind of the inspiration for this last book.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh. I mean, we could fill the whole episode with just follow up questions to what you just said. So much there, and it's so true. And I think it's sweet that you had a quarter life crisis at 30, because I feel like from 21 to 34, I was in... I think I've been in life crises more than I've not as an adult. And it's so relatable. And so much of it, I think, is a lot of us are so disenchanted with the "American dream" or if you're not in America, just I guess the capitalism dream of you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and you check all the boxes that you're told you need to check, which are go to school, maybe go to university, get the job, buy the house, get married, have a kid, get the dog or the cat, whichever-
Adam Smiley: Play golf.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. And so you do all the things, and then you're like, I don't feel that fulfilled. And to what you were saying about... Well, you alluded to this, and I know you've spoken about it, so I'll get into it, is just there's this dichotomy of reality versus the highlight reel in social media. And I think we're all like, oh, well you have to go to work to make money, and then you use that money to live, but also do things. And so then you have to work to maintain all these bills you have. Now you have a mortgage, you can't quit your job. And we're in this rat race cycle, and it's like, maybe this isn't great.
Adam Smiley: Yeah. I think the social contract has kind of eroded, and I think actually gen Zers see right through this specifically, especially they're joining the workforce now, which just think about all the instability in the last two years, if not four years, and inflation and student debt and all of these things, and people are just like, wait a second, I'm supposed to be unhappy for 20, 30, 40 years, then there's some light at the end of the tunnel where you're 65, the 401k catch kicks in, you get social security, you retire, you play golf, you're good? It's like, this doesn't make any sense. It's also not available, applicable to almost anyone because of the nature of technology, AI, globalization. Things are changing so quickly. Even if you wanted to, you probably couldn't stay in the same job for 10, 15, 20, 30 years.
Very few people, that's going to be their situation, yet we're still kind of modeling career growth like that, and we're kind of still in this old school mindset. And college is still incredibly not affordable, and in many ways doesn't give people the jobs that it says it was going to, besides for maybe some majors, computer science majors at Stanford University. It's just not realistic, and it's broken, and I think that's a big issue. And I think there's definitely a correlation there, if not causal, correlated between why we're seeing such increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress, burnout among young people, frankly teen suicide obviously for very young people is on the rise, incredibly linked to the rise of the smartphone, the rise of social media.
I was just reading some new data from Sapien Labs, they're a nonprofit that does mental health work, that said that as many as half of young adults worldwide... So this is not just US, not just the most advanced economic countries, have experienced a deterioration in their social self, and a link of symptoms that can't be said to one thing in the DSM, which is kind of the psychological you have this issue, or this is your mental health diagnostic thing. It's a lot of things, many different things, all related to feeling a lack of the social self and having a sense of community and being part of something. And growing up in this world, I think makes people feel that way. So there are a lot of ways to address that and help that, and mine is just a little tiny sliver, but I think anyone doing community building work is somehow part of that.
Jillian Benbow: What is your definition of the social self? I like that term.
Adam Smiley: It's not my term. I don't know what they're using, and I probably should look it up just to kind of give folks a sense, and I'll do that on the backend here, but for me when I think of it is just feeling like you have a support system, feeling like you belong, feeling like there's people that have your back. They're using it social self score, an aggregate metric that describes how we see ourselves and interact with others.
Jillian Benbow: Now that you've said it, I'm like, oh yeah, that makes perfect sense.
Adam Smiley: The how we see ourself thing I think is a big piece of why people are scoring so low. They see themselves as less than, they see themselves as less accomplished, or less cool, or not as amazing as the highlight reels of everyone, but you start talking to people, and everyone's struggling and everyone's going through the same thing, but it just doesn't... Because we don't spend as much time with people in real life, we don't get to know that. We don't break through the kind of facade.
Jillian Benbow: It also takes a vulnerability. I mean, because you and I could hang out in real life and kind of toxic positivity our way through an experience. You go have coffee and you're like, oh, how are you doing? Great. You too. Cool. And then talking about whatever. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, gosh, Smiley has his life so together, and I'm such a mess, but maybe I'm not going to talk about it because it's like, well, we're having fun. I don't want to be a downer talking about how I feel less than in every avenue of my life or whatever. It's like, you don't want to hear that. So it's very interesting. It reminds me of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but it's of social needs, and I'm sure someone's made a very brilliant science-backed version of that that's of the social requirements.
I have a 13 year old daughter, and I see this a lot with her and her friends, and the Tik Toks and the Snaps and all the stuff that they're doing, and they're always connected, but not at all at the same time. Right? They will be sending things to each other constantly. It's just... We recently took a bunch of them in the car down to Denver, which is an hour and a half from where I live. I'm up in the mountains. And you could be engaging and having a conversation, but they're all also Snapping each other in the car, then other people. It's just, I'm exhausted. And I can't imagine, just sidebar, being a pre-teen teenager and having social media. I'm so thankful none of that existed back in the day. Cell phones weren't even a thing. And if they were, they were a Nokia brick.
Adam Smiley: Totally. A snake phone.
Jillian Benbow: Anyways... Yeah. So I'm curious, what advice do you have to people who do feel like that? I mean, we can talk about it specific to the workplace, but just in general, I think it's valuable. We are all human and need human connection, so we don't have to silo it.
Adam Smiley: Totally. Yeah. Just to piggyback on that, I mean, I consider myself the Oregon Trail generation. Playing Oregon Trail, getting dysentery-
Jillian Benbow: You died of dysentery.
Adam Smiley: Yeah. You died of dysentery. And we grew up, we understood technology like AOL instant messenger, and we got email, but I, freshman year of college didn't... Most people didn't have a cell phone actually till maybe junior or senior year. Yeah. I remember we all had desktops. I am so grateful that I came of age and learned how to make friends and learned who I was. That's the biggest piece, learned who I was and had a sense of, not just social self, self in a pre-social media era. Because I think... I mean, I know these kids will be fine. I've spent a lot of time with young people and teenagers and college kids. They're great. They're going to be awesome. They're socially so active. They have such amazing values. They're driven. They're going to be okay, but I'm just grateful that that is not the world that I grew up in.
But actually related to the children piece, I think one of the big things, not speaking about the workplace, but just in general around friendship and is kind of the first section of my book, is called be more playful. I think that there is something about this idea when you get to be an adult that you have to have all the answers, you have to do the right thing, you have to kind of get in line, when actually the right approach is play. I write in my book a lot about this experience of going to Camp Grounded, which I know Jillian Richardson's been on your podcast and has probably talked about. I was a counselor at camp Grounded. It was a summer camp for adults that my friend had started. It's a tech free summer camp for adults.
Jillian Benbow: You were on the other side of this, right? Because Jillian, who was our first guest and is such a delight, she was talking about how everyone made names-
Adam Smiley: No real names.
Jillian Benbow: She was lady. Yeah.
Adam Smiley: Right. Which is funny, but also actually a really important design tool to give people a sense of not being tied to your LinkedIn identity. Maybe someone is working at Facebook or working at Instagram and comes to camp and is like, maybe I don't want to be identified as that, or maybe I don't want to be identified as the personal brand they are on social media or maybe whoever, they have sold a company for lots of money, but want to do something completely different, or they're broken, unemployed, and don't want to be identified with that. But whatever it is, having the nickname, Cookie Surprise or Popcorn gets you to just jump into your own self. So play, creativity, channeling that inner child. If you think about it, when you're a kid, your job is to make friends. It's recess, go play. Do you want to play? I want to play. I'm doing this. Do you want to join? No. Okay. You're going to go do that.
That's kind of the only rule, and then that kind of withers away and you're supposed to get in line as you get older. But creating more opportunities for play, and so whatever that looks like for people. And that could be improv, that could be doing something you've never done before, that could be doing in the context of work for two minutes at the start of a meeting doing a little exercise, an icebreaker, or could just be dancing at the start of a meeting, or just anything that is something different. Play is kind of that ability to channel the new, the different, the exciting, the curiosity. I think it goes a long way to creating the environment where people are their true selves, where then they can make closer connections and become friends with other people.
Jillian Benbow: I have to ask, so Cookie Surprise is pretty amazing, but were there any superbly excellent names?
Adam Smiley: Oh, there's so many good ones.
Jillian Benbow: What's just off the top of your head a top name?
Adam Smiley: Bricky St. James, Bubbles, Honey Bear, Ocelot.
Jillian Benbow: That's so fun. Did you have a name?
Adam Smiley: Well, my nickname Smiley was kind of cheating. I also sometimes go by Barry LaCroix Esquire. Barry, not Berry. B-A-R-R-Y, Barry LaCroix.
Jillian Benbow: That's even better. That's fantastic. I love that. Yeah. I think play, and also just the concept of leaning into like, just be you. I've never been good at being an adult, frankly, but to me, a lot of it feels like pretend, like we're pretending to run a business. It's all meaningless really. And so I have a hard time playing along very seriously, because I just kind of see all of it as just a joke. And that concept... Especially becoming a parent, I was like, I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm realizing that my parents didn't either. When I look at them, I just assumed they knew all the things, and there was a piece of safety to that, but turns out it was all a lie. Not at an intentional and manipulative lie, but nobody knows what they're doing.
It also explains a lot about your own childhood when you're like, God, my parents, what the... And it's like, oh, they were just shooting from the hip too. You're just reacting to life. And I think realizing that, I'm like, I can't pretend to be this very serious professional person, because I just am not. And if you ask me a question, I'm not going to give you this PR answer, and good thing I don't work in PR, because I couldn't do it. And I think it's actually really helped me in a way. Yeah, I might come across a little silly or whatever sometimes, and you still have to have hard conversations and do the things, but it's also a relief. It's like, ah, I don't know. And so when people ask me about community building and things, I'll be like, oh yeah, we tried that, it was an epic fail. We didn't know what we were doing, but we learned this about it.
And I think that's such a more valuable conversation than trying to kind of save face and hold airs about, oh yes, I know everything about everything, and it helps kind of jumpstart some connections with people, because they'll be like, oh okay, we don't have to play the game, we can just talk and real talk about things, and just having that sense of trust and being like, yeah, let's talk about it. There is this thing that happened that sucked, let's talk about it.
Adam Smiley: Totally. I feel like what you're saying is kind of, if you're real, you're vulnerable and you're just open with where you're at, and you're honest, that creates the environment that other people feel like they can do the same. It's that kind of permission slip. And it's kind of like when you see there's that video, YouTube video, it's like some guy kind of dancing and just everyone's sitting at him being like, who is this guy dancing? It's just like he's on some field dancing, and he's just completely dancing, out there in his own thing, and then one woman joins him starting to dance, and then everyone's like, what? And then four, three, a couple more people, and then by 20 seconds later, everyone's just dancing. We need more people to give those little hints and give those little permission slips.
Jillian Benbow: Get it going. Yeah.
Adam Smiley: Get it going.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. That's so true about... People running communities I think have that responsibility, but also companies and work culture, it's the same sort of thing. If you come into a company and you see the people dancing, you're like, okay, it really is like that, and then so you're like, okay, let's do this, versus if you come in and they're like, oh yeah, it's a super fun place to work, and then you get there and it's all just not at all, and no one's dancing, and it's very formal, and you're like, I thought they said this was a good place to work.
Adam Smiley: Right. And if you think about it just in terms of onboarding, there's so many... Especially for young people, the experience of onboarding, joining a job let's say in the pandemic or where you haven't met any of your colleagues. Now, if you're someone in your late 30s or 40s, 50s, and you join a job that's full-time remote, it's probably okay, because you probably have the experience of being in the office or working with a manager before, or maybe you get it, you kind of understand office politics. If it's your first job post-school or in your early 20s, and your full remote, and all you get is a PDF that's 300 pages of here's everything you need to know about working here, can you imagine how off-putting that is versus the experience of either doing an in-person onboarding or at least a live video where you're getting to know people, and you're getting to talk to people and connect with people, and it's not less about the information, and more about the experience and getting to connect with your coworkers and your future team.
I mean, I think it's such a subtle... It's another design thing, but if you're just giving someone information, that's not really what they're looking for when they're joining a company, or frankly ever. I mean, yes, we need information, but usually what people are looking for, especially when they're joining a new team or when they're kind of judging a culture, is connection, is people, is the permission to not know, is the permission to ask questions, is to have doubts and say, I don't know if I agree with this, or what about this, or have you thought about this, or I'm nervous, I'm scared about this, are you scared too. Okay, cool. We're both scared. We can be friends. I trust you.
Jillian Benbow: It's so true. And that whole concept, the PDF versus, or what you were saying less about information and more about experience, yes. I can't imagine, I'd never really thought about what you just said in that, I worked in offices and different in-person environments, and then went remote and have been remote for well over a decade. I couldn't even imagine going into an office again. But I had that experience so that when the transition to remote happened, I still understood just the dynamics and politics of what it is to work on a team and all of that. I can't even imagine coming out of school, and then getting a remote job and being like, okay.
Just being able to understand Slack culture, and how to do that, and how to communicate in that way, and build relationships in that way, but also hop on a Zoom and be able to... I don't want to say code switch, but that's what comes to mind when it's like, you have the relationships you have with people individually, then you come onto a Zoom, you're not going to be quite as silly, whatever, just like going into a conference room versus the water cooler conversations and all of that. Just all of it. It's got to be tough.
Adam Smiley: Yeah. And I think you'll often find that people, at least in a more traditional culture, office culture, and let's say older office culture, will complain about young people not having the, let's say etiquette, file it under etiquette, or behavioral stuff, and I say, well cool, have you trained them, or is there an in-person experience where people are understanding, or shadowing, or getting mentored, or having those career sponsorship opportunities where they can follow people and learn and ask questions, or are you just expecting that they should know things? Because it's just different, and you can't expect people to know how things go. And you should also kind of say, hey, this is how we've been doing things for 10, 15, 20 years, maybe we need to switch things up a little bit.
Jillian Benbow: Right. Well, this is the way we've always done it. Anybody who says that, I'm immediately like, red flags, no, no, no, hold on, that's a terrible way to run your business. So you go and speak to... You work with Fortune 500 companies, I'm assuming probably also smaller companies just about this sort of thing. Is there anything... And what you're talking about, it's almost like cultural onboarding. So what are the basics that every company should be checking?
Adam Smiley: Yeah. I mean, I think that it's shifting so quickly. That's the thing about this work, especially in the wake of the last two years. But I'm a big believer that we're moving away from the employer, company-centric, we're so great, look at our mission, look at our values, look at our website, at reputational kind of clout, and more to the power is with the employee, what do our people want. So I have a slide that I talk about, kind of re-imagining purpose. So I think traditionally it's been people want to work for you if you're changing the world. That's a very... I don't know how much TV you watch these days, but there's quite a few millennial... I call them millennial founder scandal shows, like the WeCrashed and the Super Pumped, the Uber show, even you could put Inventing Anna maybe in that category or The Dropout, Elizabeth Holmes.
Now, all of these are basically millennials coming up with ideas, some of them very impressive ideas, and talking a lot about changing the world, but having incredibly poor workplace cultures, and using kind of purpose... And these are extreme examples, There are a lot of companies that have great purpose. But the point being, moving away from this kind of... Let's call it corporate speak of changing the world, and then just being like, here's what we actually do, and we're listening to our people, what do our people want, what does our talent want, what do our customers want, what do our clients want, what does our community want.
And it's an important shift, because it was all usually about, here's how great we are, here's what we're doing, this is why you want to work with us, come get the Patagonia vest with our logo, and we're amazing, and all the benefits and the ping pong tables and the free kombucha and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That was basically a lot of let's say the last 10, 15 years of venture capital backed tech, and even frankly a lot of business. And now it's, wait a second, what are people asking for? Well, actually childcare.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Livable wage.
Adam Smiley: A living wage, paid family leave, flexible work, healthcare, mental health support, elder care, parent support groups, DEI, having women on your board, having people of color on your board, this type of stuff. And so it's a big shift. So it's this real change from all about us as the community, to all about your people, listening to your people. So simple in theory, very hard to execute in practice, and very few companies are actually good at that.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Yes to all of it. And just as a quick sidebar, I think it's interesting, I'm noticing so many tech companies that invested a ton of money into the ping pong and the beer on tap and all the stuff to make people want to spend all their time in a physical location are now fighting with the actual realization that those people want to work from home continued. And they're like, hey, time to come back. Everyone's boosted. Everyone's vaccinated. And everyone's like, yeah, I prefer to work... I would like to stay at home, please. Thank you. And they're like, oh, well, we have this huge overhead in this attempt to make you all live here. And so there's kind of this interesting budding heads of we want to stay remote, and I think it's hilarious. And I work at a fully remote company that has always been that way, so it's great. But seeing these companies kind of be like, no. And it's like, oh, you don't actually care. You're like, look, we promote balance, let's play ping pong when we talk in this meeting. It's like, you don't promote balance, you promote toxic work habits.
Adam Smiley: Overwork. Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Yeah.
Adam Smiley: I mean, this has become a huge thing, and I think it's important to note that there's not a simple answer. There are going to be certain cultures, certain projects, certain teams at certain companies, based on what they do, where it is true that spending more time in-person would be valuable for their work. That's not going to be the case across the board. And I think that there is actually something to be said for... Well, I'll say this. It's not an either, or. To me, when it comes to all this stuff, it's a yes and it's a balance, because on the one hand, I think that the in-person, you're here, get your haircut here, dinners here, basically so that you're working 12 hours, never leave, is incredibly toxic, is incredibly not inclusive, and it's incredibly unhealthy for people to have healthy family lives, healthy lives outside of work, balance, rest, and avoid burnout.
On the flip side, I think if we have complete flexibility and autonomy without expectations, or even if you want to call them expectation norms around people coming together, could be virtually, but hopefully in-person, then you do get a lot of disconnection and the loneliness goes up. And there's a lot of data that shows that people working remotely perform just as well in terms of their productivity, but there's also a lot of data showing how disconnected people are and how much they miss their coworkers, and that you have to design for human connection, both in the in-person context, and the virtual context and the hybrid context. So it's a little bit of a yes, and, and it's a little bit of a figuring it out.
But I agree that most companies, there is this tendency that the company feels that if they can't see you, they don't think you're working. You know if someone's doing their job. If you can't tell if someone's doing their job, then you shouldn't have hired them in the first place, or it's not a real position. They're either getting what they need to get done done, or they're not, and you do not need to see them in-person all the time or surveil them online to know that.
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely. There's such a... And it's interesting, because there's both sides. There are people that just do not perform, whether it's in-person or remote, for whatever reason. It may be they're having a life challenge, whatever it is, but it's just there's no noticeable output, and it's like, okay, let's talk about that, let's figure this out. You have to solve for any sort of employee issues, but if you have a team and you're like, yep, we're doing good, but you don't trust them, there's a big problem, and it's you frankly. If you're not creating an environment where it's like, I trust you, I think you are properly trained, you know what to do, we have clear communication on what the expectations and results are, the KPIs, all of that... I'm going to trust you to do it. And I'm going to trust that you'll come to me if you need help, and however, not saying that... And then you never talk to them again until... But point being, if they're getting the work done, you're good.
Adam Smiley: One thing that I am not grappling with, but I think is a big conversation... And I speak a lot about belonging in the workplace. I know you had David Spinks on, and it's an important topic. I think obviously that there's so much data that shows that employees who experience high levels of belonging, they do better work, they're less sick, less turnover, all these things. Also, belonging is just an important thing for creating a humane, just equitable, inclusive, thriving society, a society where people can be themselves, don't have to hide who they are. It's just good for humanity and good for democracy. But there is this line I think traditionally when you can go a little bit... I speak about friendship in the workplace and connection and community at work.
Generally, I think those are good things. However, going back to the millennial scandal TV shows, if it's like we work Adam Newman [inaudible] let's say 10 years ago, you got to come to the summer camp and get wasted, and then you got to stay at happy hour, we're a family, it's Saturday morning, come connect, that's just, it's over the top. Now, that could lead to belonging. That can lead to "community," because the more time you spend with someone, you have all these things that you're doing together, but that's toxic.
Jillian Benbow: You're hungover together.
Adam Smiley: You're hungover together. Of course that's really not available to parents or to people that don't drink, which is a lot of people, to people that aren't 27. So there's this kind of, we want to create belonging, we want to create connection, but the family piece... There's this line at which it's like, we're all a family. It's like... Casper ter Kuile, who I'm sure you're all familiar with and maybe you've had on the show, wrote a great book called The Power of Ritual. He does a lot of community building work, and he says it's like, how can we be in real community if I can fire you?
Jillian Benbow: Thank you, Casper. I'm not familiar, but we should have him on. I always-
Adam Smiley: He's incredible. You should definitely have him on. But it's a beautiful line. And it's not to say that there are some... Having dinners with your coworkers is amazing, and having these rituals around gratitude, and caring about them and knowing what's going on inside their lives and with their family is great, but there is a line. There is a line.
Jillian Benbow: There's a boundary. Yeah.
Adam Smiley: There's a boundary which it's like, well, actually we're coworkers, and I'm not your mom, I'm not your dad, and we're not a family, because A, I'm paying you, there's a transactional situation here-
Jillian Benbow: It's a transactional relationship.
Adam Smiley: ... And if financially this doesn't work out, I could fire you. I want what's best for you, but we're not a family. And I think that when people go too far in that, it can get very toxic very quickly.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I always kind of snark about Salesforce and their whole Ohana thing. Never mind that. It's like, are you native Hawaiian? I don't think you should be using that word. But also just the concept of, oh... And they have the big events. And it's cool. They put a lot into... I understand the intention. They put a lot into the employee experience, or so they say. I would probably put them in one... And I haven't worked for them, so anybody listening... And I just don't like their product. But they very much have that vibe of, look at us, we're amazing, we had Coldplay play at this event that we booked out, this arena and all these things, but then there's a layoff, and it's like, let's circle back to the Ohana, because last time I checked, your family's your family, whether you want it to be or not sometimes. Yeah, it's a lot.
Adam Smiley: And I think this is shifting. I think this is a shift that's happening with some of the things we're talking about. The same thing of it used to be culture fit. So I'm thinking about kind of... I've just been reading a book about Zappos. So Zappos had this whole thing around employee happiness and culture fit, and basically they were hiring people if they were happy people. Now, in theory, I get how this could work. Customer service is their brand. I mean, to be fair, Zappos completely changed the game when it came to customer service, the whole thing, free delivery, don't like your shoes, six months later, you can get a free pair of shoes. They're amazing. And they completely change the norms on some of this stuff, but I think this idea of culture fit, it's like, well, wait a second, what if someone who's introverted and not that positive, optimistic, they could be an incredible member of the team. Maybe they're adding something completely different. They don't have to be a happy person. Maybe they need to work there in order to be happy, or maybe they suffer from mental health challenges or depression, and that actually is their unique value add. And when we kind of go too far on the culture fit, we get a lot of people, frankly, that look like you, or that are similar to you, which is not great for culture and not great for business.
So I think that there's this kind of shift happening of traditionally how people viewed some of these things, to what does it look like to think more broadly, more inclusively and more in kind of a 2.0 version of what community belonging looked like at work.
Jillian Benbow: And it's so easy, and we see this all the time... I see this in modern feminism a lot. There's this intention that's good, and it inadvertently becomes very exclusive, and then defensive. And so the Zappos example is a great one. Toxic positivity is not necessarily a great brand vibe, but I see their intention behind it. And to your point, there might be someone who's very quiet or is kind of not angry, but maybe would be considered "angry or aggressive" or whatever, and so like, oh, does that fit our narrow little thing? And in reality, they'd be amazing at customer service, because that takes a lot of different types of people. And just because you're happy, doesn't mean you can solve problems.
You can be like, oh, “I can't help you with that. Sorry.” That's not helpful, versus someone like, “oh yeah, let's fix it.” Think about it past... But yeah, it reminds me of a lot of things going on in the feminist world right now where white women are like, let's make merch and pink hats, and not considering there's a whole other group of women who you're just ignoring till you need them, and then get mad when they call you out on it. And this is very much a danger in community in particular. And not just workplace communities. Of course. Obviously we're just talking about those, but even just community building, you want it to be this happy place where everyone gets along, and in doing so, you don't realize that you're making, especially marginalized groups, very uncomfortable. They don't feel safe. And then you wonder why it's not growing. And so I'd love to hear what your thoughts are back into Zappos and these cultural missteps, I guess we'll call them, intended for good missteps. What's a good way to kind of check yourself before you wreck yourself?
Adam Smiley: It's a broad question. Yeah, it kind of depends-
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Very broad question.
Adam Smiley: Yeah. No, totally. I mean, I think that just from a guiding principle, modeling the we don't know more than we know the answer is probably the best place to start, and just being open-minded, asking lots of questions, admitting mistakes, admitting missteps. First of all, just having more women, more people of color in positions of leadership on a board, in executive roles, I think creates less missteps and more opportunity for frank, honest dialogue and better design at the forefront. Just in general having accountability when it comes to not just saying what you're doing, but actually measuring it and saying, hey, we got this wrong, or here's where we're at, we totally missed our targets maybe when it comes to hiring, or when it comes to DI stuff, or when it comes to change of policies, and so that it's not just speak, and it's like walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
But I don't think that there's one answer, and I don't presume to know the answers, but I think it starts with having the open mind and being real. And again, I also think that the changing the world thing, it's like, let's just be real, we make CRM software, but we are really good at it, and we take care of our people and our customers, amazing, great, versus we're changing the world. It's like, just be real. And I think the accountability, the honesty there, the transparency there is so much more refreshing. I think people just kind of see past that, and it starts... It's just like, oh great, we're a co-working space, we provide co-working office space for you to do your best work, amazing, versus we're a building communities that are going to transform consciousness. It's like... There's a desk, and there's coffee and good lighting. That's great. I'm cool with that. But I'm good with that. I need a desk and good lighting and coffee. Those are great things. I need that. Thank you. Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: We got super strong internet. I'll take it. Well, and that brings up such a great point of, I think there is this pressure, and across the scale. So companies from a fortune 500 company down to your neighbor, Joe, that you see every once in a while, I think we all feel this pressure of, I need to change the world, and it can be super overwhelming. And yes, we critically do. We are just barreling into end times on all fronts, and it's exhausting, we all know that, however, me changing the world might be something... And this is something I've talked about I think on this podcast. If not, here we go, is my purpose on this earth, I've decided, and it's changed my life, is that I'm here to create moments of kindness for other people.
That's it. That's it. I take post-it notes and Sharpies with me, I put positive... And not toxic positivity, but just little kind things, and I'll slap it in a bathroom stall or whatever. By the way, it's thrilling. You feel like you're doing something like graffiti or... Well, I don't know, but this is my nerdy person's version of like, Ooh, breaking the law. But I'll go do that, or holding a door for someone, just radical things that I'm doing day-to-day. But that is what I think I'm here to do. I think I'm here to help people smile and remind them that... Just give people a positive moment. I really think that's why I'm on the planet. And so I'm not getting a Nobel prize.
I might make someone smile, and that's fine, and and that's okay. And so if your company or your community or whatever, if you're making a CRM, you're improving people's lives in some way, are you working to the greater good? I mean, if you're working for Philip Morrison, maybe not. Maybe that's a stretch, although I'm sure they have some sort of word salad about what they're doing is great. But it's okay. And our company, I think we're really positively impacting people in the sense that we help people figure out ways to do what they want to do, to have their own business or side income or whatever, and get their word out or live life on their own terms.
That's how I like to look at it. And so to me, that's a mission I can get behind. I like that we're helping people change their own lives. So I think for all of us, and whether you're... I mean, I'm sure there's tons of fortune 500 CEOs listening to this obviously, but for all of us in our corner of the world, that whole changing the world and aligning with that, it's so important, but be okay with it being something small, because all the little things add up. Right?
Adam Smiley: But also just to bring it back to the friendship piece, being a good friend is enough to do in this world. There are so many people that don't have close friendships, and to just say that you're going to be a better friend to a few of your friends is actually enough. I mean, having close social connections increases your chance of survival by 50%. So you literally can save someone's life by being a good friend to them. And I know that sounds kind of trite and simple, but it's really true.
And I think that oftentimes with talking to young people, there is this great, incredible drive to change the world and make this social impact, which is great, we need it, the earth is burning, things are falling apart, and you being a good friend to somebody or impacting one person's life actually is the way that we do that at least on a small scale, and just to kind of on a day-to-day basis know that if you're doing that, you're on the right track and you're okay, I think, can help with these expectations of having the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. It's just kind of like a final... I mean, I recognize I've been all over the place with this, because there's just so many things I'm like, ooh, shiny thing, let's talk about that. So apologies to you, Smiley, and to the audience, if this felt a little scattered. I'm a little scattered-
Adam Smiley: I like scattered... It's more fun and interesting.
Jillian Benbow: I'm like a squirrel with caffeine and shiny things everywhere right now. But as a parting note and to what you were saying about friendship, we'll end it all with human connection. For those of us, myself included, who are like, oh... I think especially in the pandemic, a lot of friendships have been neglected. Everyone's so busy. What advice do you have, I guess, for people who kind of are feeling that, that hits home, to reestablish those connections? Do you ever give tips?
Adam Smiley: Yeah. I mean, I consider the book kind of like a cookbook for friendship with a bunch of different recipes that you can pick up, and if you're not interested in one, you skip one or go to something else. I would say that just kind of a big thing would just be start somewhere, start by reaching out, start by hosting a potluck. If it's got to be virtual and you can't... I think a lot of people of course are hanging out in-person now, which is I think the best and better. But if it has to be virtual, fine, do a virtual meetup, whatever you can do to get people together, and just spend more time with your friends. I have a exercise in the book where it kind of says, trade screen time for friend time.
If you have an iPhone, it's very easy to figure out your screen time for the week. It's two clicks. It's under settings. You can also look at the time you're spending on social media. It doesn't lie. And just make an intention for the next week or the next month to trade some of that time or all of that time for in-person friendship time, just hanging out with someone, or going to an event, or going to a meetup, or doing a virtual meetup, whatever it is where you're with people in real life, I think is what we need. And it's not to say that technology is evil, or that social media doesn't have a place, and that some of these tools can't bring people together. That's 100% true. I use many of them, and I think that we'd all be a lot healthier and happier if we spent more time with the people in our lives and showed up more for them.
And the other thing I would say is that, this is work. It requires effort. It's not passive. Friendship is not passive. You can't automate it. You can't swipe right. It's not a hack. It's not a funnel. It requires effort. It requires reaching out. It requires correspondence. It requires planning. It requires remembering when someone's birthday is, or what their favorite food is, or what they need when they're down, all of these types of things that you think, oh, an adult, I'm an adult, I have friends, that's it, friendship, check mark. Not the case. Not the case. Part of being an adult is investing time, energy, space, emotional capacity for the people in your life, if you really want to thrive, and if you want to show up for people, and if you want them to show for you.
Jillian Benbow: I'm taking this is a challenge to see if a girlfriend wants to meet me at a local coffee shop to just either work together, have some time, or just sit and chill and talk... I say talk shop, but just hang out. And that's like a threefor, because you get out of the house, you go support a local business, and you spend time with someone you care about.
Adam Smiley: It's beautiful.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Okay. So let's shift to the rapid fire, and then I'll let you get out of here. So as I mentioned before, I'm going to ask you some questions, just whatever comes to your head, hence rapid fire. So quick responses as best we can. I try not to ask follow up questions, even though I want to. So we will start with, Smiley, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Adam Smiley: Bob Costas, sports announcer.
Jillian Benbow: That's awesome. Please tell me you did it, you had a hairbrush.
Adam Smiley: Oh yeah, I did in front of the TV. Yeah,
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, go... That's amazing, and I love it. How do you define community?
Adam Smiley: Community? It's a hard thing to do. A group of people who believe in each other's dreams.
Jillian Benbow: Okay. Whether or not you have a bucket list, pretend we do, what is something on that list that you have accomplished in your life, or have done?
Adam Smiley: That's a good one. Written a book, I guess, but ran a half marathon.
Jillian Benbow: Nice. Which one?
Adam Smiley: SF Half Marathon with my sister.
Jillian Benbow: And then what is something on your so-called bucket list that you have not done, but want to?
Adam Smiley: Go to Japan?
Jillian Benbow: I dig your answers. Okay. This is going to be a good one. What is a book you think everyone should read, besides your own of course? [inaudible] those.
Adam Smiley: Stolen Focus by Johann Hari. Came out a month ago or so. Beautiful book about attention and why we can't pay attention anymore. That's great.
Jillian Benbow: Okay. I felt like that was just a sign from the universe.
Adam Smiley: His last book is also very good and very relevant to community, the book before called Lost Connections.
Jillian Benbow: I feel like this needs to be the author I binge next.
Adam Smiley: He's great.
Jillian Benbow: Okay. You're in the Bay Area, correct?
Adam Smiley: Yes.
Jillian Benbow: If you could live anywhere else, where would you live?
Adam Smiley: Oh my gosh, that's a great question. Portugal.
Jillian Benbow: Ooh, nice. Okay. Final question, Smiley. How do you want to be remembered?
Adam Smiley: Ooh, I like that question. I want to be remembered as someone that made people laugh.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. All right. So all of your books available on the usual places-
Adam Smiley: Find the books-
Jillian Benbow: ... Like Amazon?
Adam Smiley: Yeah. They're all on Amazon. Some of them are in bookstores sometimes. It kind of depends on the bookstore. But you can find the books, you can find everything about me on my website, SmileyPoswolsky.com.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. And then I know we've been talking about the evils of social media, however, we all still use it. What's your handle on the socials?
Adam Smiley: I'm mostly on LinkedIn. So Adam Smiley Poswolsky on LinkedIn, and @whatsupsmiley-
Jillian Benbow: Oh, that's cute, @whatsupsmiley.
Adam Smiley: ... On Instagram and Twitter, although I'm not that active. But I'm there. I'm there.
Jillian Benbow: That's okay. All right. Well, thank you so much for being here. I think this was a really fun conversation that is relevant to all humans, because it's all about human relationships. So yeah, thanks for being on the show.
Adam Smiley: Thanks, Jillian. Thanks for having me.
Jillian Benbow: Woo. All right. That was Smiley. I hope you enjoyed listening to that conversation as much as I enjoyed having it, shiny object syndrome, caffeinated squirrel and all. Also, I've been craving a berry LaCroix ever since that interview. To be fair, a berry with an E, berry LeCroix, not a human, So Smiley, as I said at the beginning, this interview, this episode is really about human connection, and I think we're at such a pivotal point as humans. We talked about hierarchy of need a little bit, but I think when you think about generations past, you used to work to survive very much so. Your priority list was much more rooted in survival. And so you go, you work for the man your whole career, whether it's a good or bad experience, you get the fake gold watch at your retirement party, and you get your pension, and that's check, check, done, did it, accomplished.
And it wasn't necessarily about meaningful work, it was about eating, keeping a roof over your family's head. It wasn't necessarily about getting ahead or doing what you were passionate about. And I realize that's kind of a bit of a trope, but the point is I think we've shifted from through the industrial revolution and now where we are as a society to younger generations, and again, not just beholden to generation, but just the climate now is much more that I care more about the type of work I do than making money per se. Meaningful work is more important to me than the paycheck to a point. And a lot of people more and more are feeling that way. And so it's disrupting a bit of the hierarchy of who's in charge at an office, and we're starting to see the cracks in the armor of these bigger companies where the bosses are like, too bad, this, and people are like, all right, I'm out.
And so being able to hold onto high quality talent... The game's shifting. I think it's great personally. Let's put the power in the hands of the workers. So some things that I thought just highlights for me, when we were talking about office culture, and specifically the expectation that people just know how to do it, and whether that's someone fresh out of school coming into an in-person office, and not really understanding the dynamics and the expected behaviors where professionalism is really critical versus less, and just knowing those nuances, or increasingly someone joining a fully remote team who's never had any experience like that, and understanding how to communicate and what's acceptable. Is sending a Slack at 2:00 AM a good idea? Does it show you're a hard worker, or is it annoying, or does it matter? Because your company has excellent boundaries in place, and nobody expects if they get a Slack at 2:00 AM that they have to respond to it. it's important not just in the workplace environment, this is super important in community, because if you're running a digital community, for example, thinking about essentially training your new members, so kind of onboarding on how to participate, what are the rules of engagement, what's cool, what's not cool, where's the line, and really explaining it and assuming people don't have digital etiquette, that is a fantastic thing to think about. A Girl Scout troop has this. How do you teach them kind of the rules, how does it work here? It's different than that after school club you're in, even though it's all the same kids. When we're in Girl Scouts, we follow this code. So let's talk about it when you first join, and let's all talk about it together. So I think these are things that are happening already in many ways, but it's a great thing to think about as a community builder. Or maybe there's a community, you just don't feel like you really belong. Are there expectations, guidelines? Is there any sort of, for lack of a better term, training to show you and teach you how you participate so that you can feel more like you know what's going on, and feel like you belong, or make you realize this isn't for me.
So I'll leave it at that. I think this is the type of conversation we should all be having about many things, even if it's just thinking about it by ourselves, I guess. It doesn't have to be a actual conversation. Although in the lesson of all the employers who spent a bunch of money to be the cool place to work and put in the kombucha on tap, only to find out that had they listened to their employees and asked their employees, what is it you want, the employees would've said childcare, they could've skipped the kegs and added the playroom. So it's worth conversations, especially whatever your community is, what are people asking for, what do they want, and that can really help you fill in the gaps with, is the culture, is the ways to connect, is it the best it can be? Are we setting people up for success?
And so go check out Smiley. He's a delight. Check out his books. Hopefully your local bookstore has it in stock. I will leave you with that. I hope this was enjoyable. Please leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts to help us spread the word to other people who are trying to build community. And on that, I will see you next Tuesday.
Learn more about Smiley at SmileyPoswolsky.com. That's the word smiley. Poswolsky is spelled P-O-S-W-O-L-S-K-Y. You can also find Smiley on the socials @whatsupsmiley, all one word.
Your lead host for The Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.